Cebu BRT Urban Realm Enhancement

STREETLIFE - Nigel Villarete - The Freeman

Last week, a picture of a lamppost in the middle of one street lane in Cebu City reverberated across social media drawing thousands of comments from netizens. The strange installation couldn’t have picked a better (or worse?) site --Osmeña Boulevard is the city’s main street which links its coastline, pier, and “downtown” areas to its “uptown,” ending at the Cebu Capitol itself. Actually, there were already a number of them, but the particular lamppost was zeroed in for emphasis.

Of course, who wouldn’t find that strange. Seriously? In the middle of the road? In Jones Avenue (the old name)? It got to a point that the acting mayor of the city ordered it removed. I have no idea why this was resorted to when there could have been many other courses of action to take...putting safety measures in place is one. It’s going to be rebuilt, anyway, because it’s part of the bigger project of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). How will they respond to COA when this will be flagged? It was built by national government funds from a World Bank loan!

Before anybody would start thinking that there will be BRT buses plying there, sadly there won’t be. At least, not within the present project, though I do not lose hope that time will come. That particular link from Plaza Independencia to the corner of N. Bacalso Avenue/P. del Rosario Street is now commonly called the “Link to the Port” but it’s officially tagged as the “Urban Realm Enhancement” in the NEDA-approved project documents. It was not part of the original plan/Feasibility Study, but it was the included by NEDA-ICC itself. NEDA found it necessary to expand the BRT concept not just on the lanes and stations but to improve the areas around and beyond the stations and corridors. Actually, the original concept was to improve accessibility around the Fuente Osmeña Circle, which would have been nice, too, but they later decided on the Link to the Port.

As always, government procedures are not always that clear and efficient. This lamppost is clearly a legitimate expenditure of the national government, funded out of a loan from the World Bank (WB), but it was unilaterally destroyed without consultation with the Department of Transportation (DOTr). And I suspect the other lampposts were destroyed, too --this is along the proposed BRT alignment and there would be lampposts all along the way. DOTr would now have the difficult job of explaining to the WB and the French government why their loan funds were wasted. Plus, the sure disallowance from the Commission on Audit (COA).

There are lessons we can learn from this, but proper coordination may come first. Especially between national and local governments. Having a BRT point person is another --I was once one, during Tommy Osmeña’s term, followed by Atty. Rafael Yap during Mike Rama’s first term. I wonder why there’s no one now. It would surely prevent a lot of misunderstanding and would streamline project execution. More importantly, it would prevent situations like this --destruction of government property which would certainly be disallowed by COA. Not to mention a waste of people’s money.

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